After the great induction week and getting to know the Nicaraguans in our group we drove to Masaya. While joking with the Nicas on the bus on the way there, they pointed out the huge Masaya volcano and national park that we were driving past. The size of the volcano was so unexpected that all of the UK volunteers thought that they were looking at a large ridge, when in fact it was just one side of the crater. After passing the national park we arrived in Masaya, which is different to Managua in so many ways. Where as Managua is a sprawling urbanised metropolis, Masaya is a lot less developed and affluent. This, however, gives the city a much more personal feel, and it seems more vibrant and full of life than the casinos, billboards and supermarkets of Managua. 

We arrived at our host families to a warm welcome. Myself and eight other volunteers are currently staying with two families, who live around a small courtyard with several other houses and more animals than I can count. Every time I get close to figuring out which animals belong to which house and which ones are strays, someone goes to the market and buys another handful of chickens, dogs and cats to add to the mix, although everyone has enjoyed petting the most attention seeking dog, I have ever seen that sits on a chair all day, and playing with our families five year old kitten. We then settled into our rooms and were formally introduced to our host family, after which we had our first of many, meal of rice and beans. Assuming we eat beans at our current rate, after nine weeks of staying here I will have eaten 900 portions of beans; luckily I’m enjoying this at the moment, although that may well change 500 meals in.

On Friday we drove to the visitors centre at the Volcan Masaya National Park, which will be our meeting place for the course of the project, where we had a meeting about the direction of the project as a whole and reviewed the EU proposal, as well as looking at the specific tasks we were going to perform. I could outline what tasks these were here, but as of me writing this they have already changed twice so that would probably be futile. After the meeting we had a tour of the volcano in order to get our bearings of the terrain that we would be working on. The crater is absolutely huge (I would guess that it spans around a kilometer). Huge clouds of white smoke bellow from it constantly, that can be seen for miles, and the smell of sulphur eminates from it ferociously. It is no surprise that the Spanish christened it the seventh mouth to Hell when they discovered it, as is evidenced by the cross placed atop a nearby mound to ward against it. 

After this we walked up a path to a second dormant crater towering above the first. The crater is completely filled with trees, except for the barren land right in the centre of it, and from the ridge around it you can see for miles, from the Masaya lagoon all the way to Managua and its lake in the distance. Looking from the crater you can see the swathes of solid lava that flowed from the eruption in the 1700´s down to the lagoon. Trees are scattered across the volcanic ash and the contrast of such vibrant life and destruction in close proxity is awe inspiring. Looking in the other direction we just see the eco-farm and some of the small villages that would benefit from our project. Around the outskirts of the park there is a large ridge, the geographical remnants of the enormous supervolcano that the park used to be. 

Over the weekend we met with the leaders of the organisation we would be working in partnership with, which is a kind of town council for the native part of Masaya and consists of the village elders who are all very interesting, colourful and respectful people in their separate ways. Aside from this we were free to explore Masaya for the weekend and had a chance to visit the markets and central park that are full of interesting stalls, as well as the local fruit and meat markets there is a tourist one selling innumerable gifts and t-shirts. In the central park there is a great smoothie bar that also sells fresh raw fish soaked in lime and chilli, which is fantastic, as well as a pizza place and a supermarket, all of which is incredibly cheap compared to the UK. 

On Monday we walked over to the eco-farm which would be the main beneficiary of our activities over the project. The walk there takes you through some fantastic forest and past several bat caves, one of which we had a chance to briefly explore and navigate through the snaking tunnel to the main cavernous chamber filled with bats, which used to be used to prepare sacrifices before they were taken up to the crater to be thrown into the volcano, which still has a pool of lava in its base that can only be seen at night due to the smoke. The walk up to the eco-farm was down a long, overgrown path and up a very steep, sandy hill, which makes the going very tough. The farm itself has fantastic views over the park and we are hoping to capitalise on this by building a viewpoint for tourists in order to encourage visitors to the farm.

Work began on Tuesday and we set out with machetes and pickaxes. We split into two groups, one who would work on clearing the overgrown trail down to the farm, the other group would be doing a lot of heavy lifting of building to materials up a hill to where the viewpoint was being constructed. As I was in the latter group this would not be an easy few days. We started work carrying stacks of bricks up the hill five at a time, followed by carrying 50kg blocks on stretchers between two of us, and then we finished the day by doing shuttle runs with 30kg tanks of water on our backs and mixing cement by hand. This was an incredibly tough day and we left bruised, sunburnt and exausted, but most of all satisfied that we had really made a positive contribution to the building of the viewpoint, which was progressing well with the foundations being laid. After work we had our first Spanish lesson for an hour and a half, before eating and going straight to bed.

On Wednesday we continued the work on the viewpoint carrying materials and the second group finished off clearing the trail, which is now much easier to walk down and is a great improvement. We also had the addition of a new material, where we had to start sourcing natural sand from the riverbed, which is used in all local construcion, and carry it for around a 20 minute walk all the way up the hill to the viewpoint. On Thursday we were joined by the splinter group to finish the viewpoint and carry materials, most people took it in turns to collect water while myself and a couple of other volunteers did runs in a park rangers pick up truck to fill the entire back of the truck with sand and concrete that was needed to finish the construction. While doing these runs we visited La Sabanita for the concrete, where our Group One is doing their project. La Sabanita is beautiful, but tragically filled with horrific amounts of rubbish due to the lack of any waste management in the area.

Friday has so far consisted of planning for the projects next week where we will split up into smaller groups. As of now, I will be working on building steps up the steep sandy hill to the farm to improve accessability. One group will be building an eco-latrine on the farm and another will be building an eco-latrine further afield. This has been a long and tiring week during which I have met many new people and done a huge amount of work; as well as having horrific food poisining along with everyone I live with (which really makes you appreciate running water and flushing toilets in the UK). Despite this however, I am looking forward to another week of this exciting country.

Written by ICS volunteer Tom Nevett